To reach our ambitious climate goals, we will need new ideas and approaches to reduce carbon emissions—and some energy innovations that haven’t been built yet.
Holtec International, a major supplier for the nuclear industry, is branching out to meet this need for carbon-free energy by designing a small modular reactor (SMR). In 2020, the company received $116 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and license its SMR-160 through the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.
A Simple Approach Offers Great Opportunities
The SMR-160 is a pressurized water reactor, similar in some respects to more than two-thirds of the 94 reactors currently running in the U.S. today. It will use solid uranium fuel to heat water, create steam and turn a turbine to generate electricity. However, Holtec’s reactor will be much smaller and produce 160 megawatts as opposed to the more than 1,000 megawatts that current reactors generate. The reactor design is simplified—which will make it easier to build, operate and license—and can even be deployed in more areas, like those that don’t need a large power plant.
The SMR-160 is still a unique design, though. The reactor will be located underground, making it more secure and, in case of an accident, will use an automatically triggered system to cool the reactor that relies on gravity instead of any external equipment or pumps.
And that’s not the only difference. Holtec International is a major supplier for the nuclear industry with over three decades of manufacturing experience, which the company is leveraging for its SMR.
“The SMR-160 is designed, literally, to be fabricated in the factory,” said Tom Marcille, Holtec’s vice president of reactor technologies and chief nuclear officer of the company’s SMR division. Holtec operates an advanced manufacturing facility in New Jersey, specifically designed to build next-generation reactors.
“Over 60 percent of the capital equipment and structures are engineered for such right now.”
A Small Reactor Where You Might Not Have Expected
Holtec wants to use its established strengths in manufacturing to bring a new reactor to market. As part of this strategy, SMR-160 is also built to transfer used fuel into the company’s own canister storage system.
But its integrated approach doesn’t end with the design. Since Holtec is decommissioning the Oyster Creek nuclear plant only 55 miles away from its manufacturing facility in New Jersey, it has begun to look into building its SMR on the same site.
For a company working on its first design, “you couldn’t dream up a better scenario,” said Marcille.
In addition to convenience, former nuclear reactor sites can offer existing infrastructure, such as transmission lines, and have already been environmentally qualified. Using decommissioned sites could offer new possibilities for advanced reactors and open up new markets. And for local communities, a new plant could help bring carbon-free energy and jobs back to areas where plants have shut down.
Nuclear Innovation Can Be Small, Simple and Sleek Too
Holtec hopes to deploy the SMR-160 by 2029. It’s an ambitious timeline, but with Holtec's simplified design, manufacturing capabilities and possible siting in its own backyard, the idea is not far-fetched.
And with our increasing need to reduce emissions, we’ll need more developers and entrepreneurs to leverage their strengths and develop innovative energy solutions as soon as possible. Holtec’s SMR-160 will be an important part of a pipeline of nuclear innovation that will pave the way towards a carbon-free future.